I get it. People are tired of COVID. So am I. Many people think COVID isn’t a big deal anymore. Let’s end COVID!, a group dedicated to public education and COVID mitigation, sees it differently. We strive for accuracy and exist to inform the public about known facts that can lead to good-faith discussions of the best ways to manage complex public health problems, even though we wish we didn’t have to deal with them. We want people to know how to safeguard their own and their loved ones’ health.
Respiratory viral illnesses have now reached epidemic levels in the United States this fall. RSV infections are high in the South and rising rapidly elsewhere in the country. Flu cases are soaring.
Nationally, COVID-19 levels are creeping up in wastewater testing, indicating rising case rates and more hospitalizations that will follow in a few weeks. At least 544 COVID deaths occurred in the U.S. the week ending November 11. That is the fewest deaths since the last week of July, but the number will rise if the number of infections continues to increase.
And then there is Long COVID.
Most people recover from COVID-19 in a few days or weeks, depending on their immunity from vaccination or previous infection, treatments they receive, their overall health, and other factors. But 20-30% of people with COVID-19 have symptoms weeks, months, or years after recovering from the infection.
Long COVID symptoms gradually improve for many people, but not for everyone. Sometimes symptoms go away but return, and for some they seem to continue indefinitely. When that happens it’s not like getting a cold or the flu, missing a week or two at work, and returning to normal. Quality of life is reduced; some people become disabled.
Imagine: your thinking is sluggish, your memory is shaky, you’re often in pain, and walking a short distance exhausts you. It’s been like this for three years, with no sign of getting better. This example was recently reported on NPR; it’s not exactly rare. And it’s happening to people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, not just old folks.
Early in this pandemic, understanding the virus and developing vaccines and treatments were the highest priorities. That work continues, but now researchers are also focusing on Long COVID. Its impact on quality of life, productivity, and healthcare resources is significant.
Extensive research, including the CDC INSPIRE study and the National Institutes of Health RECOVER initiative, is underway to determine what Long COVID is, why it develops, how to predict who will get it, and how to treat it. The “brain fog” example above is just one type. There are several other kinds of Long COVID, including ones with primarily lung abnormalities and heart problems.
Getting vaccinated (people may find updated, no-cost vaccinations at vaccines.gov), wearing a mask in crowds, testing (Americans may order up to eight free at-home tests by mail from COVID.gov), and staying home when you have symptoms are proven ways to lower your risk. And much easier than living with Long COVID.
Please visit Long COVID for more information about Long COVID.
With only about 14% of Americans having gotten the updated COVID vaccine thus far, that is a problem for our community. While we would all like COVID to be over and done, it looks as though public education and mitigation measures will be needed for a while yet. We could find other things to do, but few as important.
CORRECTION: COVID was the Number Three disease causing death in the United States last year, not third among all causes as our previous op-ed stated.
Michael Heyd, a retired medical librarian from Fairfield Township who spent more than forty years searching the literature for professional hospital staff, is a member of Let’s end COVID!